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STS101: Introduction to Science, Technology, and Society

Unit 3: Three STS Approaches from the Social Sciences   This unit introduces you to three significant subfields of STS, two from the discipline of sociology and one from sociology and anthropology: institutional sociology of science; the sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK), or the Strong Programme; and actor-network theory (ANT).

These STS approaches aim to explain the connection between social factors and science and technology. As you will see, social studies of science and technology have a tendency to demystify the prestigious fields of science and technology, treating them as they do other common social phenomena, such as the family or broader kinship unit. Since scientists often claim special status and science has historically presented itself as exempt from social influence, the social studies of science and technology have been a source of significant controversy. In their more radical forms, they have instigated what some have referred to as the “Science Wars” – strenuous debates between pro-science advocates and critics of science and technology.

The three social science approaches treated here are descriptive rather than prescriptive or normative. That is, they aim to describe science and technology as they actually function, rather than how they should function.

Unit 3 Time Advisory
This unit should take approximately 16 hours to complete.

☐    Subunit 3.1: 4 hours

☐    Subunit 3.2: 6 hours

☐    Subunit 3.3: 5 hours

☐    Subunit 3.4: 1 hour

Unit3 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, you will be able to:
- define the sociology of science, SSK, and ANT approaches; - pair key thinkers with the sociology of science, SSK, and ANT; - identify applications of the sociology of science, SSK, and ANT; - compare and contrast the three major approaches from the social sciences; and - define key terms from the sociology of science, SSK, and ANT.

3.1 Institutional Sociology of Science: Definition and Introduction   - Reading: The Saylor Foundation’s “Institutional Sociology of Science” The Saylor Foundation does not yet have materials for this portion of the course. If you are interested in contributing your content to fill this gap or aware of a resource that could be used here, please submit it here.

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  • Reading: University of Minnesota: Robert M. Merton’s “Insiders and Outsiders: A Chapter in the Sociology of Knowledge” The Saylor Foundation does not yet have materials for this portion of the course. If you are interested in contributing your content to fill this gap or aware of a resource that could be used here, please submit it here.

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3.2 The Sociology of Scientific Knowledge (SSK), or the Strong Programme   - Reading: Carnegie Mellon University: David Bloor’s Knowledge and Social Imagery: “The Strong Programme in the Sociology of Knowledge” Link: Carnegie Mellon University: David Bloor’s Knowledge and Social Imagery: “The Strong Programme in the Sociology of Knowledge” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the link above and read this chapter
from David Bloor’s *Knowledge and Social Imagery*. The reading may
seem dense in parts, but do not worry if you do not understand every
point. The major points to understand include the four principles of
SSK: 1) causality, 2) impartiality, 3) symmetry, and 4) reflexivity.
The section on the objections to the Strong Programme may be more
difficult to comprehend. The main point to grasp is that SSK
considers science explicable in terms of the principles of SSK and
that claims to the contrary are unscientific, according to Bloor.  

 Reading this article should take approximately 3 hours.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.
  • Reading: Carnegie Mellon University: Barry Barnes’ Interests and the Growth of Knowledge: “The Problem of Knowledge” Link: Carnegie Mellon University: Barry Barnes’ Interests and the Growth of Knowledge: “The Problem of Knowledge” (HTML)

    Instructions: Please click on the link above and read this article, which discusses the conventionalist and pragmatist approach to knowledge within SSK.

    Reading this article should take approximately 4 hours.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

3.3 Actor-Network Theory (ANT)   - Reading: Bruno Latour’s “Networks, Societies, Spheres: Reflections of an Actor-network Theorist” Link: Bruno Latour’s “Networks, Societies, Spheres: Reflections of an Actor-network Theorist” (PDF)

 Instructions: Please click on the link above and click on the link
to article 121 to download the PDF. Read this article, which
provides some depth and context for the articles on ANT that you
read in unit 1.  

 Reading this article should take approximately 2 hours.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.
  • Reading: Corpus Christi College: Farzana Dudhwala’s “What is Actor-Network Theory?” Link: Corpus Christi College: Farzana Dudhwala’s “What is Actor-Network Theory?” (HTML)

    Instructions: Click on the link above and read this article, which does a very good job in distinguishing the ANT approach with what is called “classical sociology” here. Classical sociology, of which SSK is a part, takes the “social” as a given, a priori entity or set of forces that are assumed to pre-exist and impact the various characters in society. ANT suggests that the social cannot be assumed to exist in advance of investigation. The social is something that results from the activity of actors. It is a product rather than a cause of activity. This has important implications for the study of science and technology because it suggests that one cannot posit social forces as having an impact on science and technology. Rather, the social is an effect of scientific and technological activity.

    Reading this article should take approximately 3 hours.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

3.4 Key Terms   - Reading: The Saylor Foundation’s ”Key Terms Worksheet” The Saylor Foundation does not yet have materials for this portion of the course. If you are interested in contributing your content to fill this gap or aware of a resource that could be used here, please submit it here.

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